Game Design Theory: Psychology of Feedback Loops and How to Make Them!

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Game Design Theory: Planning a Game and Implementing Features

Why should you learn this?
In todays games producers and game designers are becoming more clever but they are also becoming underhanded and anti-consumer. Everyone even regular players need to understand this to protect their audience and themselves to work with more ethical and moral standards.

Feedback Loops

What is a Feedback Loop?

A feedback loop is a routine design that first begins with an action by the player which results in a response/reaction that modifies something a condition.

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So what is this doing exactly, and why is it important?

This is actually a method that psychologically can train a person to respond and behave a specific way. In other words this is how you form habits – this can apply to your real life as it does games.

A positive design aspect is that you can teach the player the proper way they should be playing by rewarding them for mixing up attacks for raising their score similar to Devil May Cry.

A negative aspect is that this can be used to manipulate a player into a corner is usually by microstransactions buy their way out.

Ex: Recently Destiny 2 was caught decreasing earnable xp for their lootboxes to make it harder and more of a grind to get them. If the game were to punish the player by making levels that become too hard to continue to play and advance – that negative feedback loop would more easily push them to buy into a microstransaction – for a positive feedback loop.

But how is this training the player?

This all has to do with endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine and more which you can study up on Youtube if you are curious to how those affect your brain, but basically your brain will release these feel good proteins that naturally incites conditioning that you will usually end up repeating once you have a taste of it and want more.

One famous psychologist – B. F. Skinner – created the Skinners Box

Essentially this is the same concept, when a mouse presses the Red Button they get shocked, if a mouse pushs the Blue Button they get food. That is training a behavior through habit with negative and positive feedback loops.

So what can we do as designers?

It’s not always a terrible thing to design your game to increase in difficulty but do so with moderation that those not paying still have a fair advantage. Usually you want to balance your game through the following examples:

  • All microstransactions are asthethics.
  • A microtransaction that is a power/weapon is balanced to achievable weapon not beyond requiring a moderate skill level or limited edition quest to gain.
  • A microtransaction does not involve obtaining an item above the power curve (future GDT Topic).

Feedback Loop in the Real World

Here’s one major example of how this loop is being used in the real world in China.

Designing Feedback Loops

So I’ll go over this with the positive kinds of reinforcements you should tend to work towards to create a better player experience and hopefully a better community.

Scenario

We want our player to be encouraged to go out and minor bosses instead of only grinding high level monsters. Currently, our players don’t want to because our bosses feel no different than fighting a regular minion, there is no reward unique to it regulars don’t drop, and it has the same animation and design that doesn’t differentiate it from minions or other bosses to be special.

How do we fix this?

Step 1: Audio – The stigma of sound!

The first thing you want to is really pay attention to your audio design choices. A enemy getting damaged and making a grunt sound is suggestive that you impacted it for instance.

Now pretend we created 3 grunts, one for each different level of damage you dealt or how you dealt it (fire, ice, etc).

If this was a Fire Boss, you want people to use Ice – while currently you can’t tell too much that it’s that significant and everyone just attacks it with regular weapons. So instead of we apply a sound for feedback that really gave you a good “punchy-ness” that made you go “Oh wow, I really did something there,” then you would continue through the reinforcement of sound design to learn what you did, how, and repeat cause it felt good.

While we’re at it, why not even add soud that only plays for this boss’s area? That’s always cool with a interesting soundtrack.

Step 2: Animations/Effects – The stigma of visuals!

This can be generalized for us here, but lets go back to when our Fire monster took damage for a moment, so we did a cool damage to it but does it really show and respond to what we did? No.

That’s a problem and really makes our sound not as effect as it could be – so we’re going to make the boss slow down more as it’s take repetive Ice damage and it’s reacting with a “knockback” or “blunt” pose when hit.

That’s telling us we are doing but what else can we do? Lets add particles for when he takes damage that comes off him so we get a full dose of “impact” being shown and responded to. It’s become quite clear now that our ice attack impacted and was responded to.

Step 3: Rewarding – The stigma of achievement!
We destroyed our monster, now what? Well I can tell you this much, you are going to go back to Sound and Animations again. We want our boss to have a death sound and animation, and a nice victory song to really sell that this is your victory – you won.

Ex: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIn-m7UXcoo (00:02-00:08)

So what do we give them? Well, we can also give them more XP for working with other classes, for using only ice magic and no fire – that’s a bonus we would blatantly say they did as an achievement they earned.

While in the end, we would give them a drop that could be collectable and exclusive to that boss that has a drop rate. You should make it clear what there is to collect.

Results
In theory mind you, this should create a better experience because that player has went through positive feedback that should have created a habit and taught them something for how that game was intended to be played.

Negative feedbacks can teach a player what not to do, such as killing your allies or abusing a power.

Conclusion

Design in moderation, care for your players experience and not their wallets, understand what exactly it is you are doing to them when you might not realize the results you are creating from certain design choices.

Understand the psychology of a players behavior and how a Feedback Loop works can change your perspective on how to approach problems and features to make solutions and overall a more positive experence.

Hope you enjoyed.

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  • How to Design Fun AI (That’s Not Complex)
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42 Likes

One major issue with feedback loops is as long as you are in the same feedback loop, the game feels like a “grind” to progress even slightly.

9 Likes

Problem is that this kind of gameplay makes the game just… not fun, usually. I mean sometimes this is good but I kind of feel like making the player repeat the same thing over and over is just kind of not right… Extra Credits has done a video or two about this very topic.


7 Likes

Well the premise is there is a good way to do them and a bad way. I still believe it’s the designers responsibility based on their game mechanics. It’s never a one size fits all solution but their videos are great pointers on the topic.

1 Like

So this is why I still don’t have a working log database :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Cool though

2 Likes

Came home from work and blew off an hour of steam Lol.

2 Likes

The more depth the aspects that make up the loop offers, the less of a ‘grind’ it is.

1 Like

That being said, however, It’s funny how skinner boxes just seem to work well on ROBLOX as you can see from recent trends such as “Boxing Simulator”.

I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with everything really. I spent an awful amount of time on that game and I actually wasn’t enjoying it at all. This is why I don’t really like this technique in games.

Great thread @TechSpectrum :grin:

I just wanted to add this video since it’s related to each other.

1 Like